Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report National Edition 54:37 Produced by Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg **************************** A Women's History Month 55' Special
Out of the Flames, From The Ashes: TheTriangle Shirtwaist Fire & Its Legacy
Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Fire - March 25, 1911
Tune into our tapestry of archival sound, re-enactments â a docudrama of the âflowering girlsâ who lost their lives in the Triangle Fire, on this hundredth anniversary, of one of the most important events in the history of the labor movement. Threaded through the sound tapestry are the haunting voices from the fire intermingled with the poetry and songs that arose in the wake of the tragedy. Another thread of the tapestry are the voices of scholar/activists who deliberate on the legacy of Triangle for today - to organize and unionize, to regulate the workplace and create a safe, decent life for working people, to attend to the problems today sadly echoing the conditions at the time of the Triangle Fire. This is a drama of the dilemmas faced by working women, their pathos, & the importance of the fire, in the annals of workersâ history - ânot to mourn, but to organize.â
A fire broke out on the top three stories of a relatively new building just east of Washington Square Park, which housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, a large manufacturer of womenâs clothes (a building which today houses New York University classrooms). Though the building was modern and advertised as fire-proof, the cramped layout of the factory space, large piles of flammable materials, locked doors by the employers, an inadequate fire escape, and the inability of New York City fire truck ladders to reach high enough to rescue the people trapped by the flames led to a staggering loss of life. All told, 146 workers died that day, mostly women workers, many still in their teens, some as young as fourteen, killed by the fire or their desperate leaps to the ground to escape the suffocating smoke, the heat and flames. It is the largest industrial tragedy in the history of New York City.
After the fire, & the outraged voices of community residents, workers, labor activists, New York State passed a series of new laws regulating factory safety which, along with unionization,gradually eliminated the worst conditions workers faced. These efforts would reach fruition in the New Deal, in many respects the creation of the coalition of forces that came togetherin the aftermath of the TriangleFire.
If Triangle is an old story, one about a century ago, it is also a very current story. While the U.S. successful, at least for a while, in eliminating the worst abuses of the sweatshop era and improving the lives of its working people, there are millions of workers today who face conditions not unlike those faced by the Triangle workers. What people sometimes refer to as the global sweatshop is a vast archipelago of workplaces, in many of which young female workers toil long hours in dangerous conditions, very often without union representation or any rights
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